Coffee Chaff Chicken Coop Litter

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My friend David Ruggiero is working on a new project called “Upcycling Northwest.”  Upcycling, of course, is the in-word for smarter/better recycling, making use of the energy in the initial production of something, rather than using more energy to break it down into raw materials-or, as David puts it, finding “the highest and best re-use for the material rather than the easiest or most obvious.”  David is sure that there is more to upcycling than making arty handbags out of gum wrappers. With Upcycling Northwest, he’s trying to hook folks up with useful industrial castoffs.  And in Seattle, what better place to start than with the coffee industry?

A few weeks ago, David sent an email around to his many intrepid gardener friends, inviting us to try out coffee bean chaff-the light, airy husks blown off the beans during roasting-as mulch and compost.  I said “sure,” and it wasn’t long before David darkened my doorstep with a big bag of the fluffy stuff.

I admit I wasn’t feeling super-hopeful about the mulch idea-the chaff is so soft and light, and the winter garden is so wet and mucky-I thought I might wait until spring.  But David mentioned he’d been using it in place of wood chips in the chicken coop, and that captured my imagination.  Next time I cleaned out the coop, I replaced the white wood shavings with a few inches of coffee chaff.

The chickens were hilarious.  Like cats, they can be unnerved by novelty, and I wasn’t sure what they would think of their new chaffy home.  But they all immediately ran into the coop, and started “playing” in the chaff, tossing it up with their bills.  SO funny.  There are pros and cons to coffee chaff in the chicken coop, but on balance, I’ve decided to keep using it.  Here’s my report:

Cons: So light that it flies around, gets in the chicken water.  Turns slimy when wet.

Pros: Free!  Upcycled!  No link to the timber industry.  Smells like coffee.  Light-easy to handle.  Clumps with chicken poop a bit  like scoopable kitty litter-easy to remove from coop.  Swiftly composts.

Most coffee roasters will be happy to pass their chaff along to you. Just ask. Usually it is just tossed into the compost bin or, more often, the landfill.  Spent coffee grounds and over-roasted beans are often available as well (check out this little article by Seattle garden doyenne Ann Lovejoy about the many uses for coffee industry by-products-for mulch, compost, garden paths…).  Coffee chaff is rich in nitrogen and other nutrients, and I look forward to mixing it with my vegetable garden mulch.  Tomatoes are reputed to love the stuff.  David is also looking into the use of those great burlap bags in which coffee is imported as a replacement for that plastic weed-blocking material (see his website for info on obtaining and using post-coffee burlap).   More to come on all of this…

Meanwhile, if you are a latte-sipping urban chicken farmer, I hope you’ll give coffee bean chaff a try in your coop, and let us know how it works for you!

Photos by Tom Furtwangler

Lyanda Haupt is a Seattle-based author, naturalist, and backyard  homesteader/chicken keeper.  Her latest book is Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness and she blogs at The Tangled Nest.